Hole in the Wall, Mojave National Preserve California

Dear Diary,

Some of the most memorable trips are those that you decide to take on a whim. This is one of those.

And very far off the beaten path.

In fact, this one is so far off the beaten path I questioned our sanity on the way there. I definitely questioned who in their right mind would want to live in such a harsh and unforgiving environment. But that would be a rhetorical question, because one thing never changes with the desert eccentric (also known as desert rats)…they’re just plain crazy.

My hubby is part of that tribe.

While I pine for the ocean and forests, he is most at home where there is no shade, no water, and temperatures are in the extreme.

This place was no exception.

We recently embarked on a quest to follow the Mojave road.  The road originally created by Native Americans as a trade route between tribes of the Mojave Valley and the Coastal California Indians.

One can traverse this road in 2 – 3 days,  but because of work commitments, we intend to take it in sections.

Hole in the Wall in the Mojave National Preserve was our most recent destination. While it is not technically on Mojave Road, it is a point of interest we didn’t want to pass up. I was as excited as I can get about a remote place within a remote place in the middle of nowhere.

The Mojave Road is noted in green, Hole in the Wall is circled in red.

MojaveRoadmapcampsites

Since we were coming back to So. California from celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in Arizona, it was a perfect time to fit this little side trip into our itinerary.

I noticed this destination was between two places with pretty ominous names…Death Valley and Devil’s Playground. I don’t know about you, but I make it a habit to avoid anything having to do with Death or Devil.

Not my desert rat of a hubby, these kind of places are right up his alley, so off we go to camp between them. The soft creamy center of a Death and Devil sandwich.

Saints preserve us.

While I was busy wondering what he was getting us into, I thanked God it was winter time and not summer. Death Valley became the hottest place in the world on July 10, 2013 when it reached a record 134 degrees. Not hard to understand why it’s called Death Valley. I don’t even want to know how the Devil’s Playground got it’s name.

Upon arrival to the Hole in the Wall campground, I had to admit the campsites are very nice. I was pleasantly surprised that we were the only one’s there. We set up our camp and walked to the ranger station to get a map of the area in anticipation of hiking the next day.

This would be Lucy’s first camping trip in our posh rooftop tent.

IMG_0882

We hadn’t even gone 50 feet before I noticed that she had already attracted a large chunk of Cholla Cactus in her fur. Cholla cactus is a nasty foe and I try very hard to stay out of it’s way. It’s called the “jumping cactus” because you don’t need to be near to attract a painful hitchhiker.

Cholla-Cactus

With Lucy’s fine hair, it was embedded so deeply that I’m sure we appeared to be performing surgery if there had been anyone there to witness it. Needless to say, I carried her the rest of the way to and from the station.

Such city girls her and I.

I was excitedly waiting to have a campfire. You can’t really have campfires in So. Cali so this was a real treat for me. We cooked our evening meal and settled down to wait for sunset. Now that all sounds pretty standard for camping folk doesn’t it?

Here’s the problem.

California cold

I remember thinking that it would be nice to be in colder temperatures since I had spent most of the summer boiling.

That is until it actually got cold. Silly me.

As the sun went down the temperature dropped accordingly. By the time my hubby started a fire, I was already frozen through and through. Even my butt was cold, and I would have thought something with that much padding would be insulated.

In this photo I am considering actually jumping into the fire (don’t worry, I would have handed Lucy off beforehand). I am totally not joking.

IMG_0895

Evidently, the above applies to California dogs too. Lucy wouldn’t stop shivering until I put her under the blanket.

Needless to say I didn’t sit outside long to enjoy the campfire experience. Forget the smores.

We got into our tent and for only the third or fourth time in my life I could see the condensation coming out of my mouth when we spoke. I would have said I was in hell, but it wasn’t warm enough.

Thankfully we had brought a propane heater (I can’t say we, my hubby had the foresight to bring it). I also had brought my Kelty Ignite 20 sleeping bag, but I wondered about the rating. Is it rated for 20 degrees or for a 20 year old (and not a more “mature” woman). I suspect it was the latter because I was paralyzed with cold.

Even with the little heater going full blast, my hand was too cold to hold my paperback book so I could read myself to sleep.

Thankfully I had brought an extra blanket because the little Walmart doggy sweater I had gotten Lucy was not enough. I wrapped her up and tucked her between our sleeping bags.

My hubby and I laid there staring at each other like burritos in a freezer.

Finally Lucy and my hubby fell asleep with both snoring. I alone laid awake to battle the cold and cacophony of nasal noise. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I promise you it was not soon enough.

Where I live, I am accustomed to roughly 360 days a year of sunshine, but never have I been so happy and appreciative of it until I felt it warm the tent as it rose.

When I felt I could finally peek outside of our tent without suffering the loss of my nose due to frostbite, I noticed Lucy’s dog water had been frozen solid. Another first for me.

IMG_0896

The arid barren landscape belied how cold it was. I felt like there should be 10 feet of snow on the ground, but with an annual rainfall of only 3 inches a year, I reckoned that doesn’t happen much.

After a cup of tea (oh thank you for being so fast Jet Boil!) and hot oatmeal, we headed out to follow the only trail in the area. The 6 mile Barbour Peak Loop trail would meet up with the short 1 mile Rings Loop Trail, which traverses the Hole in the Wall canyon.

Having learned my lesson when we were stranded by the flash flood in the Grand Canyon just a few months ago, I brought the ten essentials. My hubby had to backpack Lucy since the area was full of a variety of cacti including the “jumping cactus”.

IMG_0905

I remembered what a friend from Nova Scotia said when laying eyes on the California desert for the first time…”it looks like the surface of the moon”.

I would have to agree. And just as inhospitable I might add.

I suspect that the area looks exactly the same as it did 150 years ago when Mojave Indian runners would cover as much as 100 miles a day on foot. With one exception…see those vapor jet trails overhead as I strike a pose?

IMG_0901

They are from maneuvers being performed by aircraft from nearby Fort Irwin (I’m assuming since it’s the closest military base).

One aircraft came so close to us that I’m pretty sure I saw him tell his co-pilot “look at those fools down there.”

The only sign of life was this pesky bull blocking the trail, or was he protecting the only tree?  He was quite large and immediately started to stare us down.

IMG_0918

No worries I thought, I have my trusty “loudest whistle in the world.”

I put it to my lips and blew out a disturbingly shrill sound that was so loud I thought the blast might bring down one of those jets.

The only way I knew the bull even heard it was the barely perceptible muscle twitch in his back leg.

Wait a minute, this isn’t supposed to be how it goes. The animal is supposed to run away in fright.

No way, no how. This bull was dead serious about standing his ground. I imagined how easily he could run me down and put one or both of those horns through my spinal chord.

My hubby and I carefully made our way backwards and took an alternate route that gave Mr. Horns a wide berth. I never turned my back on him, but made sure to not lock eyes either.

Lucy however, set a decidedly perturbed look on me that seemed to say, “thanks for assaulting my very sensitive dog ears for no good reason.”

We reached the Hole in the Wall canyon which was easy to spot, since it was riddled with holes.

IMG_0925

We sat at the foot of the canyon entrance in the photo above and ate our packed lunches.

There were interesting sizes and shapes of holes everywhere as we entered the canyon in anticipation of the Rings Trail.

IMG_0930

And finally we were upon it.

My hubby headed up first with Lucy on his back as I brought up the rear. There are 4 or 5 sections of ring loops that are straight up. This is a photo of the first section.

IMG_0931

He made it look so easy I scrambled up behind him. The first section wasn’t so bad. The second section wasn’t horrible either. The third section (I don’t have any photos since I was using both of my hands to keep from plunging into the abyss below me) was an entirely different story.

I put my left foot onto a rock, then found a foothold with my right foot, then another with my left. I realized that the next foothold was roughly half of the length of my body above me. I tried to move upward, but the absence of a thigh muscle prevented me from executing that “step”.

Dammit. I was stuck. I couldn’t go up or down.

I called out to my hubby and said I tried to make the Paul Bunyon step but I didn’t have enough strength in my left thigh muscle to make it happen.

He replied, “You can do it, just do it”.

You know what? Shouting down the Nike brand mantra doesn’t miraculously make my left thigh able to perform a giant leap in mid-air while my right arm tries to support my pear shaped body (in other words, a big butt) by holding onto a ring.

If I could do that, I would already be a medal winning rings gymnast in the middle-aged category of the Olympics (if they had one).

He should know that I already tried my damnedest before I had to admit I was stuck in the first place. How in the heck did he do it with a dog on his back?

Thankfully my Eagle Scout hubby had brought a rope and he was at a place in the trail that he could set down the dog, make a loop in the rope and throw it down to me.

I put the loop around me the best I could with one hand holding onto the ring, while he braced himself against the rocks to pull.

When I said I was as ready as I would ever be, he dragged me up while I did virtually nothing to help since I couldn’t get a foot or handhold anywhere.

By the time I made it up to the landing where he was, I was a sight to behold. My pants had been pulled down as I was drug up, and I sustained a bloody scrape on my knee from getting onto the landing.

Just call me Edmund Hillary.

I was horrified to hear voices coming from below me, I rushed to compose myself before they came into sight, but thankfully they were struggling and not making good enough time to catch sight of me.

That was a blessing for both of us.

I redeemed my pride in a small way by making the next section by myself (it wasn’t hard in other words).

Before exiting the canyon, I rolled up the rope and slung it over my shoulder and walked out like a boss that had actually been rock climbing.

Like this.

200166657-001

Not from being drug up the rings trail, definitely not like that. Never mind that bloody knee.

The trail took us passed the rangers station where my hubby went to use the restroom (and probably check for a hernia) while I amused myself in the main area where the ranger sat.

He took one look at the rope and the knee, and he knew. He knew.

I blurted out, “you should warn people that the rings trail is no joke. It’s very hard!”

He looked me square in the eye and said, “little kids do it all the time”.

Really? That’s how we are going to play it?

I retorted, “That’s only because they have muscles and joints that are still brand new right out of the box ya know.”

Take that Ranger Smart Aleck.

As my hubby and I walked down through the parking lot and onto the road that lead back to our camp, I noticed a middle aged woman in very fashionable high heeled boots (I presumed they were taking a side trip from Las Vegas) getting ready to take on the rings trail.

Good luck with that.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

View Out of the Side Window

Stuckeys

Dear Diary,

It’s probably no surprise that I am a backseat, a passenger seat, and every other seat, driver. That’s what happens to us folks who have trust issues that turn into control issues and whatever else kind of issues that I am sure are side dishes to those.

I have long been remanded to silence on car trips (in my backseat driving capacity anyway) so my driving instructions, criticisms, and suggestions only occur in my head which leaves not much room for any other kind of thoughts.

On our long trips from California to Arizona and back I know the road so well that there is nothing new to discover, and nothing to distract me from the traffic. We have been in every establishment along the lonesome 40 at some time or another, so it has been relegated from road trip to just the trip home.

In recent years I have taken to reclining in the back seat and giving up control completely to my able bodied hubby to get us where we’re going.

My hobby is looking at the world through the side window which surprisingly is a whole new area of discovery. What I thought was familiar territory is quite different. A Dead Poet Society “aha” if you will. I look at the world anew, and it sometimes reminds me of places I’ve been so long ago that I almost forgot what they looked like, or that I was there at all.

For example, the Cajon Pass out of the side window on a rainy day looks like the cliffs of Hawaii, and for a moment I am transported there. The sights, the smells, the sounds of the tropical paradise of my youth.

The Mohave desert out of the side window reminds me of car trips (how long has it been since people took Sunday “car trips”?) with my mother and grandmother when we would stop at Stuckey’s and get pecan rolls to snack on. For a moment I am transported back in time to the little red Mustang with white upholstery and I can almost hear my Grandmother’s voice again. My little sister asleep by my side, and me dreaming of the day when I would be old enough to sit behind the driver’s seat. Little did I know how lucky I was to not have the responsibilities that come with that age.

The side window is a time portal, and I its willing passenger.

Try it sometime.

Until next time dear diary.

Pacific Coast Highway Day 5 – Trinidad CA to Gold Beach OR

Dear Diary,

Setting Gold Beach as a destination was an afterthought. I had held off deciding to go there until well into this trip. I don’t know why I had such a hard time committing.

I suspect it was because I really didn’t want to go there. For my sake anyway.

Let it be a lesson to all when we do something because we think someone else would like it, things are bound to go awry.

But it started out magical.

Waking up in Trinidad was as good as going to sleep there. I had breakfast in the dining room of the B&B with the lovely couple I had met the day before at Patrick’s Point.

Back into my Mustang, and I was off to parts unknown. Well not unknown, just unfamiliar. I was armed with my maps and sketchy AT&T wireless GPS app service.

If I was on the East Coast, I would have been through 7 or 8 states by now, and finally today I would be leaving my beloved California.

But not before paying homage to my favorite trees, the California Redwoods. I set off for the Newton P. Drury Scenic Parkway which was 30 miles north of Trinidad off of Highway 101, 10 miles of old growth forest. Heaven on Earth.

Just before I reached the Parkway, I saw a sign that said Elk Meadow, home of a large herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Why not? I had plenty of time.

About a quarter mile down the road I had turned onto, I came upon the vast meadow. Gorgeous, but no elk. I went on to the day use area and parked the pony to take a look around.

My car was the second car in the parking lot. There was a group of people mulling around (obviously with the other car) that eyed me suspiciously. Well now…wasn’t that a switch? I was only wearing my pink Monterey wind breaker, not the whole Hello Kitty ensemble. It had to be because I was traveling solo, that was a kind of triumph itself.

An inviting path lead to an old growth forest. It was calling my name.

I grabbed some water and headed out. The first thing I came to when the path led alongside the meadow was this sign.

Wild ElkI really would like to meet the person who needs to be told; Danger, do not approach wild elk on foot.

Maybe I don’t want to meet that person, ’cause even a dyed in the wool city girl knows better. Besides, I make it a habit not to approach animals bigger than me – wild or not.

I followed the path into the forest, where I happily followed it along until I was completely surrounded by ancient redwoods.

Anybody who has stood in a Redwood Forest can tell you it renders one reverently speechless. When able to speak again, it is only while fighting the urge to whisper.

I had no need to talk. I listened while they talked.

As the breeze high in the treetops rustled their leaves, it’s as though they were whispering their thousand year old secrets to each other in a language that we mere mortals are not able to understand.

I was an audience to Ents in Lord of the Rings, except better because these are real.

There are some trees in what’s left of the old growth forests that are thousands of years old. It boggles the mind to think that they were here before the birth of Christ.

The carpeted forest was silent under my footsteps. Only the sound of the trees could be heard. The noise in my mind and the rest of the world disappeared.

I continued down the path and was rewarded with trees larger and taller. A few photos might help illustrate their size…or not.

The trail is about 3 feet wide.

Redwood1

I felt like Alice In Redwoodland (after shrinking) next to the roots of this fallen monarch.

Redwood 2

The trail is still 3 feet wide winding around the tree base.

Redwood 3

I came upon a small waterfall and babbling creek that was as surreal as the centurions surrounding it. I had to stop and breathe in it’s enchantment. Really breathe.

Redwoods4

I couldn’t help but think about how cavalierly I had pulled off the road to see this place,  no inkling at how magical all of it would be. No elk? No problem.

As I stood there lost in the moment, I heard a long, deep, and nearby GROWL.

Well now, didn’t this day just get value added.

The brain in fight or flight mode is amazing.  In a millisecond I had already (belatedly) established some alarming facts.

  • I had no weapon.
  • I had no cell coverage.
  • I had no idea how far away from the trailhead I was.
  • I had seen no sign of any other human being for at least an hour, so nobody would hear me scream.
  • Nobody would miss me in at least a week.
  • I do not have survival skills outside of the ability to find parking in LA.
  • I do not own a whistle.
  • I have no idea what kind of animal would make that sound except it is not small.
  • If they are a carnivore (what else would growl), they can already smell my terror so pretending to be a bad ass would be moot.
  • I must run for my life.

I also remembered my Mom telling me to never, ever turn and run from something that is challenging you. Good job brain indexer, you pulled that out from deep in the annals of time. I backed up slowly for about four steps and abandoned all good advice.

I turned and ran like the wind.

Did I say like the wind? Within a minute I was gasping for breath, my knees and ankles were protesting so loudly I was sure it was audible. Let’s face it, if whatever had growled really wanted to eat me, I’d already have been a Scooby snack with pink icing.

I made haste (I wish I could say I ran) toward the trailhead and the protection of my pony. I was outta there.

I will go back someday, but not without an Eagle Scout or equivalent flanking me.

I made my way back to PCH (here known as Redwood Hwy 101) and got back on track. I crossed over the Klamath river, and finally back to the coast.

My pony and I stopped for a north coast photo op and to put up the convertible top. Not sure why, maybe because I still felt a little exposed after my near encounter with who knows what.

No Cali PCH

I headed into Crescent City which was just as quaint as I had always imagined it. I used to daydream about opening up a B&B there (a guilty pleasure of mine is dreaming of opening B&B’s in places I choose on the map, don’t judge).

That was until I learned of the tsunamis. It happens to be the tsunami capitol of the US and was nearly wiped out in 1964 as a result of the 9.2 Alaska quake.

Crescent City 1964Poor Crescent City is basically at the mercy of any quake occurring in the Pacific Ocean. The topography of the sea floor near Crescent City creates a “funnel” that proves problematic for this place. Since 1933, there have been 31 tsunamis occur.

I would have loved to stay and explore the city’s lighthouses and other points of interest, but the only thing I stopped to enjoy is Starbucks. As if my poor little ticker needed any more stimulation after the events of the morning, but it was necessary to restore my sense of civility.

25 more miles and I bade farewell to California and hello to Oregon.

Norcalicoast

Southern Oregon is stunning. I am not accustomed to seeing the magnificent sand dunes transitioning into rocky shore line and back. It’s untamed, and this stretch of highway plays peak-a-boo with the sea behind groves of trees. The beaches are littered with drift wood, grass, dunes, and trees. Simply Gorgeous.

And cold. I’m used to temperate weather year round, and admit I’m spoiled rotten in that regard.

I passed through Brookings and headed still northward 30 miles toward Gold Beach.

Brookings, OR

and another stunner…

Brookings 2

I had an issue getting gas in Gold Beach. I didn’t know that you cannot pump your own gas in Oregon. The last time I saw a gas station employee pump gas in California I was barely old enough to see out of the window of the car in the back seat, so when I stopped and some little man came bounding out of the office and demanded my debit card, naturally I balked.

“Why do you need my debit card?” I asked, “I can pump my own gas.”

He replied with his hand still out, “Not here you won’t.”

By here I thought he meant this gas station. I groaned at the thought that I had picked a quirky place to fill up, but I had to go pee too bad to find another.

I handed my debit card over to a stranger…and for a moment I couldn’t let go even after I held it out and he took hold of it. I told you we in LA have trust issues.

I literally ran to the restrooms (this means I ran twice in one day…kind of a big deal for me), and as I dried my hands on my pants instead of the 50’s style cloth loop that went round and round over the sink (Ew), I was chuckling to myself about him not having my PIN so he couldn’t use my debit card. Silly rabbit.

When I came back to my steed, he handed me my card and told me to have a nice day. My tank was full and he charged my debit card without my PIN or signature? What episode of Twilight Zone was I in?

The lodge I booked was inland along the Rogue River. I didn’t necessarily have a burning desire to stay there, but my hubby has always been fascinated by the Rogue River mail boats of renown. I told him I would check it out.

Not the Rogue River mail boats was I checking out mind you, I have no desire to spend the day speeding up the river at 110 mph (not really, just seems like it) with my hair on fire. That is something we do regularly in Arizona on the Colorado River when Mr. Energizer Bunny is at the wheel of our boat.

I would check out the Rogue River on it’s shores from the room I had booked at the lodge. I had high expectations as this was the most expensive accommodation among the seven on the northbound part of this trip.

I checked in and was of course wowed by my room. I knew I would be, as I had seen photos of it online. Of course no photo is as good as the real thing. Tututon RoomAnd there it was, the object of my instantaneous obsession…the real fireplace with real wood for a real fire.

I suppose I should explain. I have only ever had a very rare occasion to have a fire (other than duraflame logs), and when we do my hubby insists upon doing the honors since I am fire-starting challenged.

Not this time kemosabe. The fireplace is mine, all mine wahahahahahaha.

It even had the firewood and kindling all set up ready to be lit. I just had to wait for nightfall.

The meal plan is quite pricey and a big deal at this place and most guests indulge since there is no place near to eat. Not me. Being in close proximity to strangers is exactly what I was trying to get away from. The gourmet meals and wine are served “family style” and just not my cup of tea. It seemed a little pretentious, and when I looked in while it was happening, I was right. But to each his/her own.

I enjoyed my PB&J with trail mix and water on my own veranda overlooking the river. It was beautiful, but not as placid as I had thought. There was a road just across the river (hidden by the trees) and I could hear logging trucks downshifting and Jake braking. The little dock in this photo is where the mail boats pick up guests for the adventure.

verandaview

The couple next to me had a small outside Jacuzzi and although I couldn’t see them, I could hear them just fine. They were enjoying a romantic rendezvous away from their respective spouses.

Awkward.

I took the opportunity to walk along the river which was lovely. I achingly missed my hubby for the first time in 5 days. He would love this place (except for the pretentious part). I got a little melancholy and went back to my room.

Rogueriverwalk

Since I had opted out of the meal plan, the office had given me a paper to fill out with what time I would like the complimentary coffee delivered to my room, which I was to fill out and hang on my doorknob where they would pick it up by 6 pm. Nobody ever picked it up.

I was starting to feel invisible.

I decided to take a nice hot bath. I had time to burn until sundown and was feeling a little sore from my “runs” earlier in the day. The drain plug wouldn’t work. Dang it all.

At least I had the fire to look forward to. I sat on the veranda and watched the sun set while it got colder and colder outside. Perfect. Finally.

I put flame to fire. I probably was licking my lips or something equally as compulsive while I sated the pyro in me.

The fire blazed into existence and my room started to warm up. I finally had phone reception and talked to my family sitting next to the warm fire overlooking the cold Rogue River outside. Queue the deer and bald eagle.

As the conversations on the phone wound down, so did my fire. I had exhausted the wood in the fireplace as well as what was provided in the little basket on the hearth. No matter, the receptionist said there was a wood pile on either side of the stair case.

I filled my arms and returned to my room and my fire where I stoked it back up and settled down in my comfy bed to check my bank activity, check in on social media, and my email.

I was appalled when I saw the $150.00 charge on my debit card for gas. I KNEW IT! My first day in Oregon and I get ripped off at the gas station? I was really mad. I couldn’t wait to call the bank in the morning. Argh.

After all of my online activity I stoked up the fire again and shut down the lights for a well earned nights sleep. The smell of the fire and the shadow of flames on the wall were delicious. I would have to stay in a room with real fire more often.

I don’t know how long I had been asleep when I awoke to the unmistakable ear splitting sound of the smoke alarm. It took me a second to get my bearings and jump out of bed to try and figure out what was wrong. There was definitely smoke in the room, so I threw open the floor to ceiling glass veranda doors and propped open the entrance door to get fresh air flowing.

The alarm was so loud I am sure I woke everyone in the entire lodge up. The damn thing just wouldn’t stop. I was so embarrassed I could’ve died right there. I certainly wasn’t invisible anymore, not in a good way.

After the alarm finally stopped chirping, I closed the entrance door to my room but was afraid to close the big glass doors to the veranda, so I left them open. I finally went to sleep with my teeth chattering hours later, not too long before dawn.

I still have no idea what I did wrong. When I told my husband about it, he laughed saying the flue probably needed cleaning or something. I still cringe at the memory.

I had a short driving day so I waited until all of the cars in the parking lot were gone to check out. I used that time to call the bank and raise heck about the troll that ripped me off. Customer service explained to me that the $150.00 was just to hold funds until the actual fee of $50.00 came through.

Oh geez, I’d wrongly accused that poor man. I still feel bad about it.

After I slithered down to check out (sans complimentary coffee), I felt compelled to confess to the receptionist while I waited for my receipt, “I was the one who made the fire alarm go off last night. I hope I didn’t disturb any of your other guests.”

She laughed and said, “Oh don’t worry about it, it happens all the time.”

God bless her.

Until next time dear diary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pacific Coast Highway Day 3 – Monterey to Gualala, CA

Dear Diary,

I planned on navigating San Francisico on a Sunday because I have been there often enough to know that traffic, like any other large city, can be a headache.

I didn’t want any headaches.

What I didn’t plan into this little scenario of mine was Mother’s Day…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was reluctant to say good-bye to Monterey. It is a destination unto itself, and although I’ve been here twice before, I feel like I have only scratched the surface. The surface of the water I haven’t even begun to touch yet (Monterey Bay is so special).

I will be back Monterey.

I headed north on Highway 1 going inland once again.

Let me say this about Highway 1, what the rest of the world knows as Pacific Coast Highway. Every county through all three states has renamed highway 1 as if by putting a different name to it they can lay claim to it’s notoriety. But they can’t change the number!PCH SignI still had my convertible top down and although I feel like I might be close to the shore, I can’t see it. This is a pretty unremarkable stretch of highway that widens as it goes through the marsh lands and sand dunes.

This was one of the places I was tempted to take 101 as it would have cut off a considerable amount of travel time, but I stayed true to my plan. I wasn’t in a hurry, and my bucket list said Highway 1, not 101.

I am aware that I am only slightly more than halfway through California, yet if I were on the East Coast I would have already gone through 3 states.

45 miles north of Monterey I reach the other end of Monterey Bay where lies the city of Santa Cruz. I wished I had time to stop and play here. I have never been here before but feel like I have after hearing all about it from friends who attended UC Santa Cruz.

It’s beach, boardwalk, seashore amusement park, pier and other unique qualities make it another destination, but I have an unfamiliar and the longest drive day ahead of me so I wistfully move on. I had the feeling I would be sorry, but as it turned out…I wasn’t.

The tundra between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay (another 50 miles north) is all the same; rolling hills, grasslands, marsh, farmsteads, and brush. At least I got to play peak-a-boo with the Pacific Ocean along the way.

The highway meets up with the sea again and it is glorious between Half Moon Bay and San Francisco. The road isn’t challenging, instead it rather lazily follows the shoreline which affords me the luxury of staring at the water and clouds. It is Mother’s Day, and I see families at all of the local beaches picnicking.

This makes me homesick for the first time since I started my lone trek.

I stopped at a beach and had what had become my daily meal “on-the-go”, a PB&J with trail mix. The weather had turned from sunny to grey. I noticed my mood would change accordingly.

I don’t know what came first, the grey or the homesickness, but they did not compliment each other.

I pressed on to what I both adored and dreaded, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Here would be the last place that would be familiar to me. I have spent time in San Francisco on many occasions, and I love it. I didn’t necessarily leave my heart there, but very close.

Over the last 40 years of my life I have been to Chinatown, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, The Wax Museum, Pier 39, Golden Gate Park and Bridge, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square, Hyde Street and various other absolutely fantastic points, and again there is so much more I have yet to see, but not today.

As I approach the city, what I dreaded the most happened…gridlock. The sky had grown foggy and misty, and I regretted leaving my top down (you KNOW I mean convertible), but I dared not get off of highway 1 lest I not be able to get back on. The traffic would move just enough so that I couldn’t put it up in traffic, but it wasn’t so bad. Much better than entering the city from the 5, and sitting in traffic there.

I finally reach the Golden Gate Bridge, and as fate would have it, I couldn’t see it. It was shrouded in fog, but I still took a photo from where my car top would be if it wasn’t down. Traffic was bad, so I didn’t take my eyes off of the road, so let me apologize in advance for the dicey photos.

This was what the bridge looked like as I reached what I assumed was the midway point.

Golden Gate 1 And another dicey photo taken from over my windshield…

Golden Gate 2

But this is what it looked like when I disembarked…crazy huh? Notice the traffic at the bottom of the photo. Yeesh.

Golden Gate 3

But the fun was not yet over. It took me another hour just to get to where the 1 and 101 parted ways again.

Then came the most challenging part of the highway that I would encounter. From where the 1 and 101 split to Stinson Beach was another 2 hours.

This is the only stretch where I felt road rage welling up. There was a sign before the hair raising turns started that clearly said “NO VEHICLES OVER 23 FEET ALLOWED”.

Pretty straightforward to me. I didn’t know why just yet…but I would take note, if I had a vehicle over 23 feet.

Evidently others do not take note, and let me add if they were in LA, they would have been set straight pretty quickly. Tour busses would get stuck on those hairpin turns and the road would have to clear in order for them to execute the turns. Not just one or two, but what seemed like at least 20 of them.

The lesson here? Patience Prudence, patience. I am not patient, which is why I’m a Mad Baby Boomer, not Patient Baby Boomer. ‘Nuff said.

After Stinson Beach (which looked like an adorable little beach town, but crowded (which is something I had already grown accustomed to NOT seeing in the last 2 days) so I pressed on through.

I was terrified more than a couple of times along this stretch of road, and quite frankly my nerves were frazzled by the time I reached level ground again.

I nearly got out and kissed it. Silly me, I had no idea what was in store for me later in the day.

Oddly, the next 50 miles to Bodega Bay was lonesome. I had very suddenly been abandoned by all of the traffic at Stinson Beach, and in addition to the grey conditions again (Stinson Beach had been awash in sunshine), I felt insecure.

Had I taken a wrong turn like Day 1?

I had no phone coverage to consult my GPS, no hubby to reassure me, and the road signs seemed very far apart. Tomales Bay was grey, desolate, and downright depressing (and seemingly never-ending). I didn’t even feel jealous of the occasional homestead along it’s marshy shores.

Back inland, and after Bodega Bay I got my wish to be back to the seashore, but I didn’t anticipate how challenging this stretch of highway 1 would be. It certainly didn’t look that bad on Google maps!

I was getting tired, I had been driving now for 6 hours, and I was completely off track as far as where I was with regard to my destination…Gualala.

Had I passed it?

Finally! I came upon something I could easily pinpoint on my paper map (like old school) by way of the Russian River. It was still a little grey, but there was no denying the distinction of this waterway. It meandered beneath me on the highway, but it wasn’t until I crested the mountain and caught site of the estuary that I was left breathless.

Russian River

I looked closer at what I initially thought were very tidy logs along the sand bar, but when I looked closer I realized they were more of my friends the elephant seals. Very smart of them. I’m not sure what the big birds are, city girl remember?

Russian River Elephant Seals

After stretching my legs and breathing in the incredible beauty of this place, I moved on with a much lighter heart. I was exhausted though, and I didn’t know it but the most challenging and treacherous part of this day’s road was still ahead of me.

The next 33 miles would take me another hour to navigate, and by the time I saw Ocean Cove General Store, I was nearing tears at the thought that I had passed Gualala and would have to go back through what I had just endured.

I parked my pony and went into the General Store to confer with someone…anyone…where I was with relation to Gualala.

As I entered the store in my near hysterical state, I could tell the four men inside were enjoying a Sunday rhythm that they must practice regularly. They stopped their easy conversation and looked at me. All four faces.

The one behind the counter said, “Can I help you little lady?”

I replied with a dry mouth and even though I tried to control it, my voice was too high and betrayed me., “Have I passed Gualala?”

They all turned around at that point to fully face me and the same gentleman replied, “No ma’am, it’s another 20 or so miles down the road.”

I replied “Oh thank you so much” with such relief, that one of the other gentleman asked, “Are you driving these parts alone?”

“Yes” I said. I added, “I’m traveling highway 1 to Seattle”.

They all walked toward me while the original gentleman (coming out from behind the counter} said, “Well God Almighty, do you know how long it’s been since we seen a lone woman purist along here?”

“No” I said, “I don’t know how long and I don’t know what a purist is…”

“A purist is someone who sticks to highway 1 to get here. It’s been a long time since we seen a lone female do it. You got guts girl!”

With that, they all took turns patting me on the back and high fiving me.

This did more for me than I can adequately express. I will be eternally grateful to those men. They gave to me a renewed sense of pride, strength, and determination. Never underestimate the power of encouragement and a kind word. Thanks boys.

Ocean Cove

I finally made it to Gualala, and this time I enjoyed the scenery. It reminded me of Colorado, if Colorado was on the ocean. In other words…just beautiful.

I checked into my small room (because that’s all they have in Gualala), but the view was breathtaking. In spite of the fact that I still had no phone reception and would spend the only Mother’s Day to date without speaking to my kids or hubby, I could breathe again.

I found peace here.

I cannot end this day without speaking of the most incredible woman (and her husband) I met on this little path outside my window.

Gualala

She was in her 80’s and was a transplant here in Gualala from her home in South Africa. I asked her if she missed her home, and if she was willing could she tell me about it?

She said, “Yes, I miss it every day of my life” and proceeded to paint the picture with both the good and the bad of the world she had to escape to survive so long ago.

What an incredible gift.

Her last words to me were, “Be careful on your travels my dear, you are rather special.”

Thank you God for sending these incredible people my way, and making both the landscape that I see, and the landscape of those who have indelibly touched my life…so special.

Until next time dear diary.

Every Epic Journey Starts With One Step

Dear Diary,

A story starts with one word on a blank page.

A painting starts with one brush stroke on a blank canvas

A journey starts with just one step.

For most people.

For me, before I take that step a journey starts with lots and lots of planning.

I wish I could be so fearless as to just jump in my car and let fate take me wherever it will, but that is not and never will be who I am.  I would be worried the entire way about the who’s, what’s, when’s, and where’s.

I gotta have details.

So began the epic planning that preceded my epic journey. But that’s part of the fun.

I pretty much decided to cruise Pacific Coast Highway from LA to Seattle on a whim. It had been on my bucket list since before the bucket list had a name, but never bubbled up to the top before.

Everything in it’s time they say.

We had already done the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to Monterey when our daughter was little, but my hubby hated it (he’s not a coastal hairpin turns with traffic kind of guy) so it never really came up again.

But I didn’t have to worry about what everyone else thought about it, this was going to be a solo trip. My trip.

Kind of liberating.

I planned this trip so thoroughly  that I’m quite sure I logged an embarrassing amount of time on Trip Advisor and You Tube.

It was a brand new feeling to have as much time as I wanted, and a purse of hush money that was completely outside of our household and savings budget.

God bless retirement!

A road trip of this magnitude also has to be about the conveyance.

I had traded in the Mom car for a convertible Mustang GT after my youngest started high school. I was going to have to rely on my pony (the Mustang) to take me 1800 miles over one of the most challenging roadways in America, so of course I had it checked for worthiness. I was good to go.

My Pony

My Pony

I googled what I would need for emergency road gear and assembled it along with personal needs and creature comforts.

In short, it took three weeks to eliminate every possible unknown, besides what awaited me on the journey itself.

Still the question looming larger and larger through every step still was, WILL I BE ALRIGHT ON MY OWN?

And still I had no answer.

I was certainly fine planning it on my own. It was refreshing actually. Not have to plan and pack for anyone else but me. Not something I had experienced for 35 years.

If I’d ever known, I had long since forgotten what it was like to be a free spirit.

A free spirit armed with maps (my pony is old school, no GPS), an itinerary, reservation confirmations AND apps on my phone for weather and road conditions.

Maybe not so much a free spirit.

As my focus was narrowed to my Next Big Thing, I noticed a subtle shift in the tensions in my marriage. Our conversations became easier. Our time together more valued.

One day while I was marathon gardening (had to get it planted before the trip), my hubby took the pony and had a Blue Tooth enabled stereo installed as an early Mother’s Day gift!

Really nice of him, and really nice to have music. I created a Pacific Coast Highway playlist.

As I was packing the car, I noticed a little stowaway trying to make herself as small as possible. I felt guilty not taking little Lucy, but I would be focused on her and besides, some of the places I had booked didn’t take animals. I would miss her terribly but she would be in good hands at home.

The only thing left to do was leave, so on the first Saturday in May 2013 I started what was to be one of the most enriching, empowering, and visually stunning weeks of my life.

BUT, WOULD I BE ALRIGHT ALONE?

I needed to know.

Next time dear diary – LA to Pismo Beach